Sky president: WNBA followed science to put together successful season

The WNBA's 2020 "Wubble" experiment just ended, but plans for the 2021 season are already underway in Chicago.

"We want to be optimistic and plan for business as usual. Everyone has things to do, from our ticket office to our sponsorships department," Chicago Sky president Adam Fox said. "But, we are also planning for every option."

No one wants another fan-less "Bubble" season for any of the major sports, of course, but the WNBA certainly has a recipe for success if that's what it comes to again.

The 2020 season in the WNBA's "Wubble" in Florida at IMG Academy in Bradenton was as good as it could get, with every game televised, plenty of social media coverage and an interesting playoff run that ended in a championship for the Seattle Storm and popular veteran Sue Bird.

"By the measure of being able to accomplish what we did when it had never been done before, it was a very successful season," Fox said. "The feedback we got from fans tells us that the WNBA was visible. Fans were seeing game action and all kinds of good content generated from inside the bubble and that made them feel connected.

"I think the 'Wubble' allowed for great stories to be told on TV and through social media."

The "Wubble" succeeded, Fox said, because the league followed the science closely, and because all of the players and team personnel bought into the protocol and followed it to a T.

"It was mission critical for us to use the science to help shape decisions and protocol used in the bubble," Fox said. "And I give a lot of credit to people involved in the bubble. It's not easy to do what they did. No one is used to that, having their freedom of movement (altered).

"But we were able to get in 22 (regular season) games and the playoffs. It was a remarkable achievement to get it done and create so much interest in a nontraditional season."

The Sky overachieved in the "Wubble," and then underachieved.

Off to a10-4 start, the Sky looked like a legitimate contender early in the season, but injuries to key players such as Diamond DeShields, Azura Stevens and Stefanie Dolson put the Sky firmly on their heels. The Sky wound up losing seven of their final nine games, including their only playoff game - a one-and-done, single-elimination first-round loss to the Connecticut Sun, 94-81.

"Injuries really didn't allow us to get to where we wanted to go, and we started off with a big injury by not even having (center) Jantel Lavender (who was eventually traded late season) available at all," Fox said. "But everyone here is so bullish and optimistic about the future of this team. We have a really talented, close-knit group. The talent and closeness of the team was on full display in the start we had."

One consistent bright spot for the Sky was the play of point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who was named first-team all-WNBA.

Vandersloot averaged a league-record 10 assists in 22 games, breaking her own record of 9.1 assists per game set in 2019.

Slooty also set the single-game WNBA record with 18 assists against the Indiana Fever on Aug. 31.

"She was just remarkable," Fox said of Vandersloot. "She has proven herself as the best point guard in the league, and as (Sky head coach) James Wade says, 'the best point guard in the world.'

"Her work ethic is spectacular and I'm just glad our fans were able to witness another special year by Courtney."

Outside the Bubble:

While the WNBA had the benefit of creating a bubble to get its 2020 season in, college basketball won't be so lucky.

There is no conceivable scenario in which the entire college basketball season, with teams from all over the country, could be played in a bubble. So here we are a month removed from when college basketball normally would be starting and there is still no clear-cut answer as to how the NCAA will move forward with its season.

Most programs, including DePaul, Northwestern and Illinois, don't even have a 2020-21 schedule posted on their websites yet. Northern Illinois has only its conference schedule posted, and that doesn't begin until Dec. 30.

However, one sliver of good news just came on Friday.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced that it will stage its tipoff tournament as scheduled for Nov. 28-29 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut as part of "Bubbleville."

The four-team tournament, which includes 11-time national champion Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi State and Quinnipiac will be held in a "bubble atmosphere" at the Mohegan Sun.

What each team and the rest of the NCAA will be able to do after that is anyone's guess.

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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